In the first half, Alex McPherson kicked two field goals and Darrell Prater added a touchdown run for Fort Payne, but the Wildcats were held scoreless in the second half and fell 35-12 to Briarwood Christian, suffering elimination in the first round of the AHSAA Class 6A state playoffs at Lions Pride Stadium in Birmingham on Friday night.
Christopher Vizzina rushed for two touchdowns and passed for another, and Luke Reebals had one touchdown rushing and one receiving for the Lions (10-1), a No. 2 seed from Region 5.
Fort Payne closed its 2021 campaign with a 6-5 record after earning the No. 3 seed from Region 7.
Vizzina scored his second touchdown on a 17-yard run midway through the third period to push Briarwood to a 28-12 advantage. He ran in for a 2-yard score on a fourth-and-goal play in the final period.
A McPherson field goal gave Fort Payne a 3-0 lead after the team’s opening series stalled at Briarwood’s 11-yard line with 6:43 remaining.
Vizzina connected with Nicholas Dicen for a 70-yard catch and run on the Lions’ first series, setting up a 2-yard scoring run by Reebals for the go-ahead touchdown at the 4:49 mark of the period.
Connor Cash kickstarted Fort Payne’s next drive by catching a short pass and using screens to race for a 23-yard gain on a second-and-24 play.
Briarwood’s defense stiffened, however, and held the Wildcats to a 49-yard field goal by McPherson, pulling the visitors within 7-6 at the start of the second quarter.
Bennett Blanks made a diving interception at Fort Payne’s 4 to halt the Lions’ ensuing drive, but the offense couldn’t get beyond the 10-yard line and was forced to punt.
Fort Payne’s defense was flagged for encroachment three times on Briarwood’s following drive. Vizzina capped the series with a pitch to Reebals for a 14-yard touchdown with 4:20 left to play in the half. An extra-point kick made it a 14-6 Briarwood lead.
Cash ripped off a 40-yard kick return and got on the receiving end of a 37-yard pass from Barnes to help push the Wildcats into Briarwood’s red zone inside the final 3 minutes of the half.
On a third-and-goal play from the 2-yard line, Prater bulldozed his way for a score. Briarwood’s special teams defense denied the Wildcats to tie the game by stuffing Kaden Dubose on the ensuing 2-point conversion run, keeping the score at 14-12 at the 1:40 mark.
The Lions responded quickly before the half, extending their advantage to nine points by traveling 80 yards in five plays, wrapped up by a 43-yard scoring run by Vizzina along the right sideline with 34 seconds left.